Narwhals Are Helping NASA Understand Melting Ice and Rising Seas

I saw this headline, and couldn’t help myself.

(Real article: Narwhals Are Helping NASA Understand Melting Ice and Rising Seas – Bloomberg, via mylesb.)

Margaret’s petard (or, we’re their them)

The Globe‘s Margaret Wente is an effective opinion writer, in that she can get you riled about something without actually adding any valuable comment. Take yesterday’s piece “Yes, Virginia, there is a polar bear” (paywalled, but helpfully parroted by her friends) as a shining example.

In it she makes the following points:

  1. Experts predict (nameless, faceless, experts, of course. She might as well have written Them for true shock effect) that climate change will harm polar bears
  2. Her expert on prediction (J. Scott Armstrong, Professor of Marketing [?!] at Wharton – no doubt to her cuddlier than Knut and also firmly one of Us) says that experts are really bad at predicting things where models are complex and inputs have uncertainty.
  3. That Prof Armstrong has come up with the sew wittily-named Seer-Sucker Theory: “No matter how much evidence there is that seers do not exist, seers will find suckers.”

So, Margaret: advocating medieval ignorance, superstition and misery because your “[a]bundant research [uncited, of course; can’t have the taint of intellectual rigour here] shows that experts … are no better than non-experts at making accurate predictions”? More likely, you’ve elevated Prof Armstrong to be your seer. By his argument, then, you are your own sucker.

Instead, consider Advices & Queries 17: “… Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.”